D.C. Voting Rights Can't Be Traded for Tax Breaks

No-taxation without representation doesn't solve the problem.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

My friend Doug Heye has an interesting post over at The Hill's Pundit's Blog on the issue of D.C. voting rights, or lack thereof. As I wrote in my column, people should be outraged that nearly 600,000 American citizens are legally disenfranchised. Doug agrees that it's a problem but comes to a different (and, of course incorrect, conclusion). He embraces the taxation red herring.

Doug's post is interesting for two reasons. First, he gives a concise assessment of the political obstacles regarding a D.C. vote:

...the legislation moving forward in the House and Senate is clearly unconstitutional. Federal representation for District residents requires changing the Constitution. Ratifying a constitutional amendment on the issue is unlikely; it's simply not in any state's interest to willingly diminish its own power.

I disagree that the legislation is "clearly" unconstitutional. I think it's not an open-and-shut case. But that's neither here nor there. Here's the meat of Doug's post:

Proponents of D.C. statehood, with the license plates and signs all over town reading "Taxation Without Representation," however, have things backwards. If they really want to improve life in the District, forget about the representation and focus on the taxes.

The idea is that instead of seeking their full rights as American citizens, D.C. residents should literally sell them: Stop seeking congressional representation and instead settle for not having to pay federal taxes. He goes on to argue that this would create a financial boom that would benefit the district. Maybe it would.

But this misses the point. Rights are fundamental, non-negotiable, and are certainly not for sale. Full representation in our federal government isn't a privilege that can be bought and sold or must be earned. It's a right—a right that's being denied, but a right nevertheless. In fairness to my friend, he is coming at this from the point of view of practical politics, but we too often lose sight of the fact that there are larger issues at stake here.

What would be the reaction if residents of Tucson were given the option of skipping taxes if they forsook the right to freely assemble? Or if Nashville was offered exemption from federal taxes in exchange for worshiping at only the Catholic Church, or not worshiping at all? Laughter would be a polite reply.

It may be that turning D.C. into a tax-free zone would spur economic growth in the city. But that's a separate issue from the 600,000 American citizens living there being denied their rights. And it's not a solution.

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